JR Derrow estimates that he’s worked with more than 15,000 clients throughout his 20 years as a counselor for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Combine that with the 20 years he spent as a personnel officer and counselor in the Navy, and Derrow has helped a lot of Sailors and Marines.
While he started his NMCRS career in Norfolk, Virginia, and currently works out of the NMCRS Portsmouth, Virginia office, Derrow has always been willing to lend a hand where it was needed. “I’d go up and help in the NMCRS Yorktown office when it was still there, and I helped out at the NMCRS Little Creek office,” he recalled. “I’ve taught budget for baby classes, trained volunteers, helped run offices when the directors were out, and conducted a lot of command briefings representing the Society.” Derrow’s professional, personal, and educational experiences all contribute to his work for the Society. “I have a bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social science and I’ve always been pretty good with finances,” he said.
“I always wanted to be on a Navy ship,” Derrow said. “I joined the Navy right out of high school. The motto then was ‘It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.’” At one point, he was stationed on Diego Garcia, a small island in the Indian Ocean just south of the equator. “It was rugged living down on the beach, while the Seabees were building the barracks,” he recalled. “We were in plywood huts with a screen around the upper half. It was like camping. To bathe, we had to go out with towels and walk across the beach. Later on, we were able to transition to barracks living, which was a major upgrade.”
While he was still on active duty, Derrow was stationed aboard five ships and homeported on both coasts, including Norfolk, Virginia; Patuxent River, Maryland; San Diego and Long Beach, California; and Portland, Oregon. “The way it worked on the ships I was on,” Derrow explained, “the morale, welfare, and recreation fund was used to fund emergency travel from the ship. Or perhaps they passed the hat. There were no shipboard representatives for NMCRS.” But, by the time he became a commissioned officer, he was able to refer Sailors in need to the Society, and he contributed to the Society through an allotment from his military pay.
Derrow’s drive to get an education and to serve motivated him throughout his career. Military pride runs strong throughout Derrow’s family. “We are a family steeped in military service. My late father retired from the U.S. Army. My brother is retired U.S. Air Force, as is his wife, my sister-in-law. My late uncle served in the U.S. Navy in WWII, another late uncle served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, my nephew is presently serving in the U.S. Air Force.” And, like many of the clients he’s worked with, Derrow is no stranger to loss.
“My stepson, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ian Manuel, U.S. Army, age 23, was killed in action January 8, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq while he served as a Blackhawk medical evacuation pilot. Nine soldiers aboard his helicopter were killed after it was shot down by an insurgent’s missile while flying a medical evacuation mission en route to Baghdad. Ian had been in country from the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in late March 2003 and had flown over 300 hours of medical evacuation missions while there. I had known Ian since he was 10, and am married to his mother, Tita. Ian and I had a great relationship.”
Derrow brings his family’s experience and his compassion to everything he does. “After I retired from the Navy and saw the job announcement for an NMCRS counselor, it intrigued me because one of my collateral duties in the Navy had been career counselor,” Derrow said. “Serving as a counselor for the Society fit in with my college degree and involved working one-on-one with people. Even after retirement I enjoyed being around my Navy family.”
One Sailor whom Derrow helped with emergency leave had lost his wife. “I could tell he didn’t want me to ask too much about how his wife had passed,” Derrow recalled. “But I read in the newspaper later that they had a 15-foot python as a pet. His wife had tried to administer medicine to the snake and it asphyxiated her. That was memorable and shocking, but we were able to help him with the funeral expenses.”
“In Norfolk, a volunteer once told me that nine years earlier I had helped her and her husband as clients when they were new to the Navy, so she came back to volunteer. Her husband had been advanced to first class petty officer and had a successful Navy career. It’s very rewarding to have a positive influence on people. Not only to assist them financially, but also to get their buy-in and teach them a better way to handle their finances so they don’t need us in the future.”
Congratulations on 20 years of service, JR!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso